Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Be prepared to adapt.” Interview with Vanessa Smith

Interview with Vanessa Smith, CEO of Mountain Weddings Europe, on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company.

Hi, I’m Vanessa, the CEO of Mountain Weddings Europe. Here at Mountain Weddings, we specialize in creating epic adventure weddings all across the Alps. I started the company exactly a year ago just as the pandemic hit and weddings were put on hold. Against all of the odds, I’ve managed to build a company out of nothing. No investment, no savings – I just started where I was, with what I had and haven’t stopped since. We’re now upgrading office space for the 5th time this year as we need more space as we expand, we have more weddings booked in for the next two years then I predicted we’d get in our first five years of business and we’re having to change the legal structure of the business as we have grown so fast that our turnover is now too high! 

What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?

Covid related answer:

Motivation – Motivation is a real struggle for entrepreneurs normally never mind when there’s a worldwide pandemic going on that has put a halt to the entire event industry. Wave one of the virus and we managed to stay optimistic – it will all be over in no time, right? Wave two hit and that was tough. We all thought it was over and we were coming out the other side. We’d had an increase in enquiries, brides out to visit the mountains to see venues, the phone was constantly ringing and then boom. Lockdown number two across Europe and everything came to a halt again. We were even in the final stages of planning a wedding that had been given the OK to go ahead and planned for the 31st of October here in France. France went into lockdown number two without warning on the 29th of October, 48 hours before the wedding. Halting everything again. 

With wave three now upon us, we have to make a real conscious effort to remain positive. This has to be the last wave, surely? Momentum and motivation are key. There’s always going to be days that are a struggle but remembering how far you’ve come is so important. We have celebrated our 3,6,9 & 12 month achievements and we consistently reassess our goals. We have weekly Monday meetings where everyone is welcome to bring ideas to the table, we celebrate all achievements no matter how small and talk through all of our goals, ambitions and why we are doing this. I’d also recommend having a ‘why’ that is bigger than you and the company being successful. What can your business achieve? We are currently in the process of using our profits to create safe houses across India for women and children who need a safe space. Knowing we are helping these women keeps us motivated.

 Non-Covid related answer:

The most challenging thing that I have found starting a business is keeping the momentum going no matter how many walls you hit. Learning my real ‘why’ has kept me going these past few months.

A lot of entrepreneurs get into business simply for financial freedom and to generate more money, without setting actual goals for what they would do with ‘said money’. I think this is where most businesses fail. Money is great, there’s no denying that, but money alone will rarely be enough to keep you going when you’re nearly a year into your first year of business, you’ve forgotten what sleep and relaxation look like and your alarms going off yet again at five in the morning. Something I learnt fairly early on, that I truly believe is the only reason we’re still going today, is to realize what you’re passionate about. What you want to achieve in your life and then how much money it will take for that to be attainable. In the next five years, I want to build ten safe houses for women across India. That’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s much more motivating than a simple figure or desire to be ‘rich’. 

Please tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship. 

I wanted the opportunity to be completely in control of how much I earn. Having grown up in a family where entrepreneurship is encouraged, I quickly saw that if I wanted to make a difference in the world and achieve my goals then I needed to take control of my own life, and how much money I could make so that I could achieve what I wanted and be able to fund safe houses for women and children who are unsafe in third world countries. There was no way I was going to be able to achieve this any time soon climbing the corporate ladder.

Creating my company has meant that I am now on track to building ten safe houses in the next five years. Our Indian safe houses will also run classes that will teach these wonderful women basic entrepreneurial skills so they can gain independence if they want to. Basic bookkeeping, literacy, how to run a market stall etc. Entrepreneurship leads to the ability to be independent which I believe is such a privilege that many of us overlook. Something that I want to help other people achieve and realize. 

 What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them? 

The biggest digital marketing challenge that we have faced over the last year is creating the right content. As an adventure wedding company we have found that there is a fine line between the wow factor and an image being unrelatable and unrealistic  to a bride to be. Everybody wants their wedding to be unique and different, however, not everyone wants to heli-ski into their wedding ceremony. 

Since launching, we have been continuously trial and testing to find where that line is. Content creation can be fun and exciting but you’ve got to get it right and make sure it is portraying your brand in the way you want it too, or else its a complete waste of time. After months of testing we’ve finally found the balance that works best for us. Wow your audience with something out of this world but then make your next posts, posts that they could imagine doing themselves, add in a couple of you and your team to make sure you are relatable and then Voila! You’ll never get your content right first off, play around with it and record your results. Try and try again until you’re consistently growing on your digital marketing platforms and creating an engaged community. It’s worth it. 

What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?

Figure out exactly what it is that will get you out of bed in the mornings seven days a week. 

You’re never going to have it all figured out, just start and learn along the way. Surround yourself with other like-minded people. People love giving advice. Find a mentor, they don’t necessarily need to be in the same field as you, just someone to bounce ideas off, get excited with at the achievements you make along the way, and a second opinion on anything. 

Learn how to time-manage – you don’t need to do anything fancy. Even something as simple as buying a diary and a set of highlighters. Write lists upon lists and then go through and prioritize. If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. Time is your most valuable asset and one that you won’t get back. As you grow you will consistently have ever-growing lists and if you don’t stay on top of it, it can be overwhelming and lead to complete inaction. Top tip: organize your day the night before, not the morning of. You’re always way more optimistic when you do it this way! 

Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?

Be prepared to adapt. Fall in love with your target audience and not the product you are selling. Chances are the product will change over time as the world changes but your target audience will remain consistent. 

Get good at taking criticism – you’re not going to know it all to start off with. Ask other opinions, try and test things, create polls. A lot of people are happy to advise for free – you don’t need an expensive business mentor. I’ve never been turned away when asking for the opinions of other successful business owners. 

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